International Women’s Day: Female FGV students reveal importance of female presence in science
Three prominent names in the history of mathematics: Sophie German, Maryam Mirzakhani and Katherine Johnson. What do they have in common? The presence of women in science as a form of female representation and empowerment.
Women’s contributions to the history of science are not widely recognized. This can be seen in the cases of Sophie German, who corresponded with names like Gauss and Lagrange; Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal, considered the “Nobel Prize of mathematics”; and Katherine Johnson, who partly inspired the movie “Hidden Figures.” Such personalities have often been ignored due to latent sexism in the exact sciences, always dominated by men.
In this context, today, March 8, 2023, on International Women’s Day, Nicole dos Santos (fifth semester, applied mathematics), Ana Carolina Erthal (fifth semester, data science) and Anna Clara Damasio (third semester, applied mathematics) gave an interview to FGV News, in which they describe their experiences at Fundação Getulio Vargas’ School of Applied Mathematics (FGV EMAp) and talk about predominantly masculine everyday life in the fields of mathematics and data science.
Famous women have often been known for characteristics other than knowledge. Accordingly, the students in question say it is often hard to find women in the field of mathematics. They say that sisterly support is fundamental and makes all the difference as they proceed along their academic journey.
Nicole highlights the lack of female references as a major challenge. She says that at times she has considered herself incapable of occupying a space dominated by men. “Why is this field so unbalanced? Will I succeed? I think this crosses the mind of every girl who chooses this field and it is a challenge to go through this process, to understand that I can do it. So yes, let’s move on and get there,” she says.
In building an academic career in science, the presence of notable women is necessary. For this reason, Ana Carolina says that having an example of women who followed this path before her is always special. In her opinion, it is extremely important to look at people who studied computing and mathematics and to follow their example.
Despite the importance of women’s presence in the exact sciences, people who study mathematics or data science may often be taken aback by the low number of women doing these courses. Anna Clara says that if she could give just one piece of advice to girls who want to enroll in these courses, it would be, “Don't give up on your dreams. If this is your passion and what you like to do, go ahead. The exact science area is for everyone.”
Nicole, Ana Carolina and Anna Clara may help inspire a new generation of girls who dream of becoming scientists. Nicole stresses the importance of having more examples to guide the next generations.
The challenges don’t stop there. According to Ana Carolina, in the case of young women who study mathematics, they will encounter relatively few other women. In addition to female personalities in science, unity between women, efforts to tackle challenges and the lack of representativeness are key issues.
Female visibility and representation are still scarce in these fields, but this is what the three female students in question look for on their academic trajectory as they study mathematics and data science. It is fundamental for them to be resilient and continue with their course, despite so much gender bias. Therefore, they emphasize the importance of attracting more women to these courses, in order to establish partnerships and exchange knowledge in pursuit of greater representativeness.